Salma’s every movement is policed

Shaheen Hashmat reviews a BBC 3 drama that was broadcast the other night (and alas as usual is not available outside the UK), Murdered by my Father.

The recently aired BBC 3 drama Murdered by my Father is an incredibly powerful depiction of the circumstances in which ‘honour’-based violence takes place. Screenwriter Vinay Patel developed the story following detailed consultation with specialist support charity IKWRO (the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation), among others. We learn that London teenager Salma (Kiran Sonia Sawar) is betrothed from an early age to the son of her father’s business associate Haroon (Salman Akhtar), and despite trying hard to honour her father’s wishes, her love for Imi (Mawaan Rizwan) makes it impossible for her to reconcile the idea of getting married to anyone else. Though she and her widower father Shahzad (played by Adeel Akhtar) share a warm relationship to begin with, his control on Salma’s life tightens considerably as the pressure on him increases to force her into line and ‘protect his reputation’.

Haroon tells her she’s Westernized, her school alerts her father to her absences from school, her father moves up the date of the wedding – the walls close in.

We see Salma’s despair as she is torn between her father’s emotional blackmail and the desire to live her own life. After running away to safety, Salma is tricked into coming back to the house, where her father strangles and suffocates her to death.

It sounds so Jacobean, but it’s real and it’s contemporary.

Patel has done a fantastic job of conveying the social backdrop to this very specific type of violence. We know that Salma previously tried to break up with Imi, but she was unable to resist getting back together with him. When his sister catches him looking at her at a wedding, she warns him to leave her alone, saying, “I’d prefer it if I didn’t have to tell mum why her darling puthar got his head kicked in at a wedding.” She recognises the threat to both of them. In fact Salma’s every movement is policed by everyone from the nosy neighbours to her own little brother, who isn’t even a teenager himself.

She’s perpetually afraid.

Many victims are indeed betrothed to each other from a young age in order to strengthen family ties, which in this instance are broken when Haroon tells Salma’s father that he’d rather keep the business in his own family than associate with someone who has ‘shamed’ them in the way they say he has for failing to make Salma comply. The impact of stigma from the community on ‘honour’ abusers is depicted in a particularly intense manner in the scene where Salma’s father is beaten by Haroon. Although much less dramatic, I too recall in this personal blog post the moment my own father is told he should be ashamed for raising a daughter like me.  The dynamic between Salma and her father is also spot on, from the initial pleading and tense compromises to outright threats. Many abusers do indeed imprison their victims to isolate them and prevent them from having any contact with the outside world.

The one thing Hasheen doesn’t like is the ending, in which the father kills himself.

There is no way that Shahzad would have killed himself after killing his daughter. Men who murder in the name of ‘honour’ are revered and celebrated within the communities from which they spring. Even in jail they are treated like heroes. Deeyah Khan’s Banaz: A Love Story demonstrates how killers will even gloat about what they’ve done as they recall the gory details to an eager audience. Shahzad would have served his time comfortably and re-entered a community that would mostly have welcomed him back with open arms.

The Shafia family are appealing their sentences.

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